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‘Star Wars’ Director J.J. Abrams Feels Lucky To Land Biggest Job In The Galaxy

By Rick Bentley, The Fresno Bee (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — J.J. Abrams was 11 years old when he saw Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope.

“The experience I had seeing ‘Star Wars’ for the first time was mind-blowing. Eleven is a great age to have your mind blown. I will never forget that feeling of seeing ‘Long time ago, in a galaxy, far, far away’ fade out. It was the first time a movie made me believe in another world that way,” Abrams says.

And now it’s Abrams’ turn to blow some minds. The man who showed it was possible to reboot an established franchise with his Star Trek movies is helping ring in a new era of Star Wars with The Force Awakens.

“There honestly were a few moments where I was looking at what we were doing from the outside in and just started sweating. I was just terrified,” Abrams says of directing Star Trek. “Every once in a while, you are on the set and you look at it from the outside and you are like, ‘This is ridiculous.’”

There was a lot of pressure on him with Star Trek, but there would be even more with Star Wars because of the high expectations by the fans. He was able to deal with all his concerns by not looking at it as landing a job.

“It was nothing that I think any one of us took on because it was a gig that was available. It was something that felt like a true passion and something that every single person brought much more than any of us could have expected,” Abrams says. “I do honestly feel honored to be part of this group.”

It’s a group that features veterans from Star Wars including actors Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, plus writer Lawrence Kasdan. Now, Abrams has mixed in a relatively unknown group of actors in Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver and John Boyega.

The fan in Abrams comes out as he talks about the thrill of working with the actors from the movies he saw as a kid. He was also excited about the way the veteran and new cast members blended to tell the story he and Kasdan had written.

As the day loomed closer for The Force Awakens, Abrams was concerned about how much the Disney Studio, owners of Lucasfilm, would want him to show in the movie trailers. He was worried that if too much was revealed, it would ruin the excitement surrounding the production.

What he found was that Disney was even more adamant about not revealing too much.

“I was very grateful that Disney actually took the lead on trying to keep things quieter,” Abrams says. He went on to ask that those writing about the movie be respectful of the fans and not reveal too many spoilers.

Abrams stresses that The Force Awakens is not just a trip down memory lane. He went back to episodes four, five and six for the history he needed to move the story forward.

“I’ve always liked working on stories that combine people who are relatable with something insane,” Abrams says. “The most exciting thing for me is crossing that bridge between something we know is real and something that is extraordinary. The thing for me has always been how you cross that bridge.”

He’s been crossing those bridges since he broke into the business in 1990 as a writer and became known for turning out TV scripts for his series Felicity and Alias on a weekly basis. He continues to write, but he has been more active as a producer with such TV shows as Lost, Fringe and Almost Human.

Star Wars is one of his biggest writing and directing jobs. The construction of the film is based on a fundamental question from the first day: What did Abrams, those putting the film together and the fans want to feel?

“That was really the beginning of the discussion. The answer was the kind of sense of discovery, exhilaration, surprise. The comedy that George Lucas put into ‘Star Wars’ kind of was, for me, the thing that made me love the movie,” Abrams says. “But when you look at all the things that he got right, it’s impossible, and stunning.”

The idea from the start was to give fans the same kind of sense of possibility and magic that he had felt since he saw the movie for the first time as an 11-year-old.

©2015 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: JJ Abrams attends a fan meeting for the new movie “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” world promotional tour at Club Oktagon on Dec. 9, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. (Lee Young-ho/Sipa USA/TNS)

 

O.J. Simpson As The Terminator? Schwarzenegger Looks Back On Getting Iconic Role

By Rick Bentley, The Fresno Bee (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — The plot of Terminator Genisys, the latest in the dystopian series about man vs. machine, suggests history can be changed with a tweak of the timeline. If James Cameron hadn’t been so insistent in 1984 that Arnold Schwarzenegger was the perfect person to star as the killing machine in The Terminator, the franchise would have had a very different look.

When Schwarzenegger met with Cameron to discuss the low-budget sci-fi film, the actor wanted to play Kyle Reese. He’s the good guy human sent from the future to protect Sarah Connor. While doing that, Reese ends up fathering the man who sent him back through time.

“As far as I knew, O.J. Simpson was going to play the Terminator. When I met with James Cameron I started talking more and more about the Terminator. How he has to train and prepare for this part. How he has to act like a machine,” Schwarzenegger says. “The whole lunch went like that. James Cameron asked me, ‘So, why do you want to play Reese?'”

Schwarzenegger wanted the role of the hero. The future California governor believed that he had his film career heading in the right direction having played the heroic Conan in two successful feature films. There was no way that he wanted to go back to being the bad guy.

He also didn’t like that the Terminator only had 27 lines.

“I liked Kyle Reese, who said a lot. But, (Cameron) said the most memorable character will be the Terminator. He said I should be the Terminator and that he would make sure that I didn’t have to think about the villains aspect,” Schwarzenegger says.

Cameron talked Schwarzenegger into playing the Terminator. Michael Biehn ended up playing Reese and Simpson went on to a different kind of notoriety.

The decision proved to be one of the biggest in Schwarzenegger’s career. The film not only was it a hit at the box office, taking in more than $38 million, The Terminator became one of the most iconic characters in film history.

By the second movie, 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Schwarzenegger’s character had been re-programmed to be a protector and he got to play the good guy. The character often gets described as one of film’s greatest heroes and greatest villains. The American Film Institute listed The Terminator at No. 22 on its list of Top 50 film villains and No. 48 among movie heroes.

It’s been a dozen years since Schwarzenegger last played the character in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. He said he was willing to slip back into the role he originated more than three decades ago for Terminator Genisys because of the writing.

“There are some people who are capable of making a sequel more special that the original. James Cameron outdid himself with the sequel and it became the highest grossing movie in 1991,” Schwarzenegger says.

“This time, (Genisys director) Alan Taylor, the writers, and producers have done an extraordinary job that really lives up to the standard of the event.”

His version of the T-800 (Model 101) has dramatically changed since the first movie. In the original, the sole motivation of the character was to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) as a way of protecting the machines of the future. In Genisys, the T-800 has become a fill-in father for Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke).

Schwarzenegger sees the character as being far more colorful.

There is more than one version of the character to play: a very young version and a far more mature edition. In one scene, the old and new T-800 end up in a fight that took a year of special effects to create.

Schwarzenegger praises the body double who helped create the fight scene.

“After three or four days of doing this fight scenes and doing all these crazy stunts, I was always wondering how they were gong to do the face replacement,” Schwarzenegger says. “When I finally saw it, the technology is so advanced, you can do so much. It looks like two Arnolds fighting.”

A lot has happened for Schwarzenegger — professionally, politically, personally — since he took Cameron’s advice for the 1984 film. If he could time travel like the characters in the movie, Schwarzenegger wouldn’t waste time hoping back to 1984. He would go back in time to the early days of the pyramids.

As for changing anything that’s gone on in his life, Schwarzenegger says: “I am perfectly fine with my life. I am very happy and want to keep it that way.”

(c)2015 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: (Melissa Sue Gordon/Paramount Pictures/TNS)

Charlize Theron Came To Love Silence Used In ‘Fury Road’

By Rick Bentley, The Fresno Bee (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — Charlize Theron spent six months in the blistering heat and chilling cold of Africa and Australia to film director George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. The first thing she says when she walks into the film stage on Sunset Boulevard for interviews for the new action film: “Is anyone else freezing?”

A quick change of the thermostat and a borrowed jacket makes Theron more comfortable while talking about her latest leap into the action genre. She had numerous stunts in Aeon Flux, but nothing compared to the wall-to-wall battles and chase scenes in Fury Road. There’s so much action, Theron found herself during the early part of filming asking Miller if she could have something to say. Slowly, she became more comfortable with his Spartan approach.

Theron gives Miller a lot of credit for building an emotional arc for the characters without using a lot of dialogue. It made her think about how much she had come to rely on the written word.

“As actors, we were fighting that tooth and nail,” Theron says. “It was out of fear because language is a crutch. Dialogue is a crutch. It’s so easy to have a great writer write you a line. George was just so adamant about keeping this film on track. The understanding (was) that this world is so bare and language would be a luxury that these people would not have access to.”

To help her tell that story, Theron’s character of Imperator Furiosa has a robotic left arm and a shaved head. Both helped transform the actress from her past films and TV commercials. Theron went back to her training as a dancer, where she had to tell a story with her body. It’s been years since she performed as a dancer, but it all came back as she talked to Miller about the dance world.

“Once you made peace with that, it actually became very liberating,” Theron says. “I thought what was really interesting about the names the characters have is that the movie is so bare in its explanation of where these people come from and who they really are. I thought there was something very powerful about the name (of her character) that really set you up. You didn’t have to know anything about her. The name alone said it. Anything emotionally driving her was already represented in her name. That was helpful.”

Her character is a strong-willed tanker truck driver who helps a group of young women escape from a tyrant. Theron sees the role as more of an anti-hero than hero because she is driven by human flaws.

It’s a character she loves

“I realized over the past couple of days, talking about this movie, how fortunate I was to have George trust me with this role,” Theron says. “You really are only as good as the opportunities that are handed to you.”

Theron particularly liked getting to play a strong character. And, she is not the only strong female in the movie. She often is surrounded by women who can shoot and drive with great skill. Theron calls working with so many strong women “a breath of fresh air.”

“I knew instantly from understanding the project that George had an innate understanding of what women represent to society and he wanted that to reflect in a post-apocalyptic world in the most truthful way possible. People keep saying ‘strong women’ but we are actually just women. We had a filmmaker that understood the truth of women is powerful enough and we don’t want to be put on pedestals or made to be unnaturally strong.

“What we are capable of doing is really interesting and informs a story like this.”

(c)2015 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Reggie Watts Brings Unique Style To ‘The Late Late Show With James Corden’

By Rick Bentley, The Fresno Bee (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — Bandleaders are the vice presidents of the talk show world. They don’t have a lot to do, but when needed, they step up and support the talk show party in any way asked.

Just like VPs, some bandleaders have been more involved than others. That’s the case with The Late Late Show with James Corden, which launched this week.

James Corden, the Brit who is taking over the late time slot where Craig Ferguson chatted with guests for a decade, will have comedian and musician Reggie Watts as his bandleader. Just like a politician, Watts makes promises. One is that he’s not going to be like the Doc Severinsens and Paul Shaffers who have come before him.

“Musically speaking there won’t be too much of a difference other than the music’s going to be improvised,” Watts says. “Me being the bandleader will definitely create a different presence. And, we will probably incorporate the band in different ways. The band is going to have a little more leeway in what it’s doing.”

Watts has established his unique brand of music and comedy with regular appearances on TV, radio and stage, including appearances on the IFC series Comedy Bang! Bang! and in the Comedy Central special Reggie Watts: A ‘Live’ in Central Park.

His music has been influenced by the diverse sound he found while growing up in Seattle.

Watts wasn’t looking to be a talk show bandleader, but he got a call from the producers just before his work on Comedy Bang! Bang! wrapped up. Watts was intrigued with the offer because it would give him a national audience for his music, present him opportunities to meet interesting people and allow him to work with Corden.

Watts was impressed that the producers and Corden knew his work.

“The first thing James said when we met was that he didn’t just want me to be a sidekick or a bandleader. He wanted it to feel like this is our show. I can pitch ideas,” Watts says. “I have my jobs that I have to do but we will meet in the middle and create weird things for the show itself.”

The challenge will be to find the right musical mix to fit the audience, who will be up at the wee hours of the morning. For Watts, that means if he does a musical number that’s psychedelic, it will have a “cool, trippy edge to it.”

Because all of the music will be created and improvised while the show is in progress, Watts knows that he can change the musical direction to fit how the show is going.

His focus will be making sure the music starts strong and ends strong as the show goes in and out of commercials as a way to support Corden. It may be only a few bars the viewer hears, but Watts wants each note to embrace what’s happening in such a way the show feels more organic than staged.

“It’s more about energy than anything technical,” Watts says.

(c)2015 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: kris krüg via Flickr